As a new school year approaches and teachers begin to plan lessons for the forthcoming term, we wanted to reflect on the significant changes to the handwriting curriculum, including the new guidance from Ofsted for the teaching of handwriting in UK schools.
In April 2021, the Department for Education (DfE) announced in the phonics validation process –
“At first, children should not be taught to join letters or start every letter on the line with an entry/lead-in stroke, because these practices cause unnecessary difficulty for beginners. All resources designed for children to read should be in print.”
It was refreshing to see a shift away from the rush to join and the teaching of pre-cursive and cursive from the start which causes significant damage to building the foundations of neat and legible handwriting.
Teaching beginners to start every letter on the line with an entry/lead-in stroke is similar to expecting a child to run before they can walk.
Building blocks for legible handwriting
Learning correct letter formation and printing is essential to laying the foundation for mastering the life skill of handwriting. This ensures they begin to write correctly and develop towards joined-up (cursive) writing at the right time. As a result, children will be able to write fluently at speed as they progress through the education system and writing exam answers becomes more important.
Building on from the changes in April, July 2021 saw further changes in the guidance in the handwriting curriculum related to the rush to join.
The Department for Education announced in the new Reading Framework for Teaching Literacy that children should –
- Practise a correct pencil grip
- Be taught the correct start and exit points for each letter, which should not include ‘lead-in’ strokes from the line
- Teaching of joined-up handwriting should be delayed.
Despite these two announcements, schools continued to teach cursive from the start with an entry/lead-in stroke so we were highly delighted when on 23rd May 2022, Ofsted published a Research Review Series on English with a specific section concentrating on handwriting, declaring a clear dislike for the entry/lead-in stroke and cursive from the start, providing specific advice on teaching handwriting correctly and delaying the teaching of joined-up handwriting.
For Morrells, we see this as the biggest change to the handwriting curriculum towards adopting a pragmatic approach for teaching children to write.
Teaching handwriting correctly
The fundamentals of learning to write and developing skills at the right pace have been a major part of our campaign for teaching handwriting correctly.
The DfE and Ofsted are providing children with the opportunity to really grasp and master all of the key elements of handwriting first to ensure fluency and speed are achievable later.
If primary school pupils do not develop sufficient fluency in handwriting, it will significantly affect planning and the generating of ideas for writing.
This change in guidance has a host of benefits, including –
- Supporting early reading and writing development
- Relieving the pressure and time constraints on learning to join for both pupils and teachers
- Creating opportunities in the classroom to introduce suitable resources to repeatedly practise letter formation using different methods
- Enable children to master a life skill properly, negating the problem of being penalised for illegible writing in exams
- Improving performance in higher-level writing tasks including children spending more time planning, improving creativity and sentence construction.
The guidance in delaying the teaching of joined-up handwriting relieves pressure and creates the time in the classroom to practise, practise, practise.
We have always been advocates of allowing children the time to practise letter formation for as long as possible. We should not be rushing children to write in a joined-up handwriting style just to tick a box or show progression. We only have to consider how a child develops and what is required to support that development to understand that teaching a child pre-cursive, cursive from the start, and an entry/lead-in stroke limits emergent readers and writers.
What are the statutory requirements for teaching handwriting in UK schools?
The national curriculum states that pupils should:
- sit correctly at a table, holding a pencil comfortably and correctly
- begin to form lower-case letters in the correct direction, starting and finishing in the right place
- form capital letters
- form digits 0-9
- understand which letters belong to which handwriting ‘families’ and to practise these.
- form lower-case letters of the correct size relative to one another
- start using some of the diagonal and horizontal strokes needed to join letters and understand which letters, when adjacent to one another, are best left unjoined
- write capital letters and digits of the correct size, orientation and relationship to one another and to lower case letters
- use spacing between words that reflects the size of the letters.
Year 3 and 4
- use the diagonal and horizontal strokes that are needed to join letters and
- understand which letters, when adjacent to one another, are best left unjoined
- increase the legibility, consistency and quality of their handwriting (e.g. by ensuring that the down strokes of letters are parallel and equidistant)
Is your school ready for the new handwriting curriculum changes?
Many schools have been reluctant to change their handwriting policy. However, Ofsted and parent power are now the driving force for schools to follow the new government guidance.
More changes will be introduced over the new academic year to ensure all children have access to quality handwriting instruction.
Questions for you to consider
Do you know what a correct grip is?
Do you know how to teach the correct pencil grip, especially for left-handers?
Do you know how to correct a poor pencil grip in every year group?
Do you have the knowledge to teach letter formation correctly?
When is it the right time to introduce joined-up handwriting?
From our experience in the classroom, pencil grip is the most common issue we see which is easily identifiable and corrected.
Introducing simple exercises to master pencil grip and develop fine motor skills will help children to have the strength to hold a pencil correctly and improve dexterity.
Using easy-to-understand letter formation resources that can be used repeatedly is paramount to providing students with the knowledge and muscle memory for printing letters correctly.
But the key questions for us are – what do you have planned to facilitate the changes to the handwriting curriculum and how will your school make handwriting practice fun and productive?
About the author
Sue Smits is a specialist handwriting consultant and advisor. She is the founder of Morrells Handwriting and author of the Morrells Handwriting series of handwriting resources for EYFS to adult.
Sue has taught handwriting to tens of thousands of children in primary and secondary schools and is the visiting lecturer to Worcester University and the University of East London to teach handwriting to PGCE trainee teachers. Sue has delivered teacher training to over 3000 UK and International primary and secondary schools and recently taught Kumon instructors both here in the UK and across the world.
Sue is well-known for her views on the entry/lead-in stroke and has recently held a twilight session on this subject for the National Handwriting Association.
Sue has also been interviewed on Teacher’s Talk Radio, sharing her years of handwriting knowledge with their listeners.
Sue has been invited to speak on handwriting at the March 2023 Dyslexia Show at the NEC in Birmingham.